Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies
COLLECTS OF THE ROMAN MISSAL - SUNDAY, JUNE 24th, 2018 A.D.: VIGIL OF THE NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
For today’s meditation on the Collects of the Roman Missal, we consider the Collect for the Vigil Mass of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This Collect is identical in both forms of the Roman Rite. Below is the official ICEL English translation of the original Latin Collect:
“Grant, we pray, almighty God, that your family may walk in the way of salvation and, attentive to what Saint John the Precursor urged, may come safely to the One he foretold, our Lord Jesus Christ. Who lives and reigns, etc. Amen.”
This Collect claims, rather straightforwardly, that if we follow the moral teaching of St. John the Baptist, we will be on the straight road leading to Christ and our heavenly home. This hoped-for outcome presumes that we know what St. John taught. Therefore, it is timely that we examine the relevant Gospel accounts.
St. John the Baptist knows himself to be the forerunner of the Jewish Messiah, as prophesied in Isaiah 40. As he himself says: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (cf. Jn. 1:23, RSV). St. Luke rehearses this prophecy more fully in his account: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (cf. Lk. 3:5-6, Is. 40:3-5, RSV).
These analogies may interpreted in a moral sense: if anyone will be able to receive the Messiah and his message, then he needs to repair his heart. The valleys represent moral deficiencies (alternatively, they can also represent the desired virtue of humility), the mountains are pride (the chief and worst moral evil), the crooked and rough ways are all other kinds of obstacles that block divine grace from entering into and changing the human heart (cf. St. Gregory the Great, Homilies 4 and 6). The Old Testament prophets often speak about the necessity of purity and integrity of heart in order to see and know God. St. John is very much in line with this tradition.
St. John also teaches very clearly about concrete acts of charity, again, stressed repeatedly by the Old Testament prophets. Naturally, his captive audience asks him for guidance in their moral actions: “What then shall we do?”, to which he replies with straightforward precepts that are consonant with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (cf Lk. 3:10-11, RSV). He even gives soldiers and tax collectors clear precepts of justice which are to govern their acts on behalf of the State (vv. 12-14).
Particularly strong and direct is his exhortation to fruitfulness, as well as his warning against complacent and hypocritical religious practice: “Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (cf. Lk. 3:8-9, RSV)..
Ultimately, St. John calls for a faith characterized by conviction and genuine repentance in action. He warns them (and us) against “coasting” in one’s religion, since this ultimately fails to please God and merits hell. Jesus speaks similarly to the Church in Laodicea in Rev. 3:14-22. This is a passage I strongly encourage you to read in your Bibles when you get home and to notice the parallels with the teaching of St. John the Baptist.
|Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.